“A TEACHER’S TEACHER”
DR. MARIANNE MARCUS BUILT ON A TMC LEGACY
Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston will celebrate its 50th year in 2022, but one professor emerita’s family legacy in the Texas Medical Center (TMC) stretches back much further.
Marianne Marcus, EdD, RN, FAAN, was born in 1932 at what was then Hermann Hospital. In the previous decade, her grandfather served on the board of the Hermann Estates, which developed the hospital that would become the cornerstone of the TMC.
Her life’s path took several twists and turns before leading her back to where it all began.
Both sides of Marcus’ family moved to Texas from the East Coast, and her parents met at what is now Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center. Her grandfather, Gurdon Avery Taft, was general superintendent of the Wells Fargo Company (Railway Express) Southern Department, where her father, Robert Newell Taft, also worked. Her mother, the former Helene Trumpold, was a nurse who cared for Robert’s mother, Caroline Swart Taft.
Marcus’ father died of heart disease when she was only 12. Her mother moved the family, then living in Wichita Falls, Texas, back to Connecticut to be near her own parents. She worked two jobs as a nurse to put her three children through college.
“She had a very hard life,” Marcus recalled. “She worked very hard. She never complained.”
Marcus at first rebelled against the family tradition of nursing. She wanted to teach foreign languages but soon learned she didn’t have a knack for linguistics. She reluctantly visited nursing schools with her mother in New York City and settled on Columbia University.
“I loved it from day one,” she said. “I was so pleased to be able to help patients. I never looked back.”
She met a young medical student, Donald Marcus, at a mixer dance, and so began a relationship that has led to more than 60 years of marriage.
After a 17-year hiatus to raise their three children – Laura, Susan, and James – Marcus decided to return to the workforce in 1975 and began teaching in the practical nursing program at Presbyterian Hospital in New York. She earned master’s degrees in education and nursing from Teacher’s College at Columbia, then taught at Lehman College in the Bronx and her alma mater.
The Lone Star State called in 1980. Baylor College of Medicine hired Donald to head a new rheumatology division, and Marianne walked into the eight-year-old nursing school at UTHealth Houston looking for a job.
“The first person I met was Dr. Dorothy Otto,” Marcus recalls. “I said, ‘Do you think there are any faculty positions at your school of nursing?’ She said, ‘I would think so, but let’s ask the dean.’”
That chance encounter would lead to a lifelong friendship and more than 30 years of teaching future nurses at UTHealth Houston under three deans – Arlowayne Swort, PhD, RN; Patricia Starck, PhD, RN; and Lorraine Frazier, PhD, RN.
Marcus began as an assistant professor teaching RN-to-BSN students and served in a number of leadership positions, including two stints as chair of the Department of Nursing Systems that totaled some 17 years. She earned her Doctor of Education from the University of Houston in 1989, then was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1991 and professor in 1997.
In the late 1980s, Marcus was approached by a representative of Cenikor Foundation, which ran a residential rehabilitation program in Houston for those recovering from substance abuse. Cenikor wanted to establish an on-site clinic for its residents. Through this experience, Marcus discovered that patients living with addiction were underserved and poorly understood.
“I realized I didn’t know much about addiction, and others in the health care field didn’t either,” she said. “That became my real interest, to increase the knowledge of addiction in nursing curricula.”
Marcus received a series of faculty development grants and became involved in interdisciplinary work with the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse. She also effectively applied another area of interest – mindfulness-based stress reduction – to the rehabilitation environment. Through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, her research demonstrated that mindfulness practice helped patients stick with recovery programs longer.
She also developed an educational program to help nurses and clergy recognize the signs of addiction and address them in a nonjudgmental way. Then through her contacts with local pastors, she established an interdisciplinary program to teach social skills, nutrition, and other topics at a local elementary school.
The highlight of her career came in 1999, when physician and philanthropist John P. McGovern, MD, took note of her expertise and offered her an endowed professorship in addictions nursing.
“That was probably my proudest moment as a faculty member, to have him say that, ‘I want to recognize this one,’” she said.
Marcus speaks with pride of the current members of the Cizik School of Nursing faculty whom she mentored as PhD students, including Assistant Professor Chukwudi Ekwemalor, PhD, MBA, MSN, PMHNP-BC, and Associate Professor Angela Nash, PhD, APRN. She has a special connection with her long-time research assistant, Deidra Carroll Coleman, DrPH, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the school.
“Since we both began our doctoral studies in our later years and were interested in helping people with addictions, we had much in common, so we became fast friends,” said Nash, who credits Marcus with helping her expand from clinical experience to research. “She wore many hats and worked so hard – even into her 80s – yet she kept her composure and unfading smile.”
Ekwemalor described Marcus as an accomplished academician and research scientist as well as a “genuine nurse” who is highly regarded by students and peers alike.
“Dr. Marcus is a teacher’s teacher with attention to detail,” he said. “She’s altruistic, easily accessible, unassuming, and an excellent nurse educator.”
Dean Diane Santa Maria, DrPH, MSN, RN, also draws inspiration from Marcus’ work, having recently received an NIH-funded grant to test a mindfulness-based intervention for youth staying in homeless shelters.
Marcus remained engaged with Cizik School of Nursing after her retirement in 2014, regularly lecturing on substance use in the elderly. Her adventures with Otto included attending PARTNERS events and occasionally adopting alter egos as standardized patients for diagnostic simulations. Marcus’ portrayal of “Mrs. Kowalski” kept the students on their toes.
“Dorothy Otto was Mrs. Malone. Mrs. Malone was nicer, but Mrs. Kowalski could be really tough,” Marcus explained. “She is a mean, nasty woman who screams and yells at the students and does a lot of drinking. Then at the end of the class, they were introduced to me as who I really am, and we talked about how they responded to me.”
The Marcuses, now both professor emeriti, moved into the same retirement community as Otto a few years ago. Marcus delivered a eulogy for her long-time friend, neighbor, and colleague in January 2020.
“It was a very sad experience for me when she passed away,” Marcus recalled.
Yet Marcus – always the teacher – focused on helping others deal with the isolation, stress, and grief caused by COVID-19. At heightened risk due to leukemia treatments, Marcus is riding out the pandemic in the apartment she shares with her husband and two cats, Roger and Louise. Her weekly mindfulness classes for residents were among the last in-person activities the retirement community canceled. Her neighbors are still using the skills she taught, Marcus noted.
Watch an excerpt of a recent oral history interview with Dr. Marianne Marcus at go.uth.edu/MarianneMarcus.